Monday, 28 February 2011

Fashion, fun – and Felicity

If the 'glass ceiling' held women back from progressing their careers in a time when there were few women at the top of their professions, Felicity Green smashed through it. From early beginnings as a shorthand typist, Felicity rose to become Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror – and the first woman on the board of a national newspaper in the 1950s.

Introduced as someone to inspire 'respect and fear' to a Media Society audience by Geraldine Sharpe-Newton in the aptly stylish surroundings of the Groucho Club, Felicity now mentors protégés of her own at Central Saint Martin's. In 2005 she was named one of the top 40 British journalists of all time.

And, although working on a big Fleet Street title has always required a certain discipline and hard-headed nature, Green is nothing other than charming, funny and fascinating to listen to.

Although never having had formal journalism training herself, Felicity's enviable 140 words a minute shorthand skill earned her first big break at Women and Beauty magazine. In the days when an enthusiastic letter could earn an aspirant journalist a job, Felicity wrote to the editor, saying “this was the most amazing magazine I'd ever come across”. And, ever since, Felicity has attributed her successful career to “good mentors”.

“I was taught to be a fashion editor by editor in chief Phyllis Digby-Morton, and although I started off making the tea and walking an unwilling dog, I was to only promise one thing - pull your stomach in!”

“After the boss told me she was leaving for The States she gave me a note addressed to the chairperson of Crawford’s, the famous advertising agency. It simply said: ‘This is Felicity - give her a job.’ And so she did. Felicity was to follow Digby-Morton and embark upon her own adventures in the States, and after a stint of doing PR for Dannimac raincoats – in which she even improved the product itself by calling in royal designer Hardy Amies – it was Fleet Street which was to be her best-known calling.

“I became associate editor on Women’s Sunday Mirror, the first modern newspaper for women, and after a year I was moved to the Sunday Pictorial, which shortly became the Sunday Mirror.”

Fashion journalism was in many ways a safe and accepting environment, but Felicity relished the challenge of being a young woman in a world dominated by older males as she took her next step.

“I met Hugh Cudlipp, the infamous editor and Mirror Group chairman and said 'I want to be Associate Editor on the Daily Mirror'”. And that's what she duly became.

In the 1950s, the Daily Mirror had a circulation of five million copies a day, and a readership three times that number.

“It was a very, very exciting time in the world of tabloid journalism and The Mirror was influential world-wide. And it was a time of a lot of pride and fun.”

“But I was given a very valuable piece of advice. 'Look out for the rocks,’ my first editor warned me – ‘you’re going to have a lot of men older than you who find themselves working for a younger women and they’re not going to find it easy; so if you have to give a man a bollocking, make sure he leaves the room with his balls intact!”

Felicity's next big move was to that of the Mirror Group's director of in charge of press, publicity and events as well as the company's television campaigns – so becoming the first female board member of any Fleet Street newspaper.

“I was creating promotions that readers could enjoy. One of those was a ball at the Royal Albert Hall for charladies – headlining little-known acts such as the Beatles and Cilla Black”.

“Hugh Cudlipp never understood me, but trusted me” says Felicity. But even he did not appreciate the big names that Felicity had lined up for the Albert Hall gig – dubbing the Beatles as “f*****g louts!”.

Felicity left the Mirror after 21 years, and was even courted by one Rupert Murdoch – who had recently taken over Cudlipp's creation, The Sun. As the recent film Made in Dagenham

“I was on £14,000 at that time, and when I found out that a new director got double what I did, I decided I was too young for this”.

But Felicity's career went on to encompass the Daily Telegraph under Max Hastings' editorship, as well as Marks and Spencers' customer magazine, at which she even met Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. All in all, Felicity gave a snapshot of an incredibly exciting and fulfilling career.

There are few evenings like this that have been worthy of an encore. Felicity's goldmine of anecdotes and inspirational stories captured, entertained and enthralled her audience. And if there is one story worth telling both for future journalists and those more experienced who have followed Felicity's career, that would be a book worth buying.

An edited version of this piece can be found on the Media Society website.
tells us, equal pay was a struggle of that period. Felicity, as self-confessed feminist and active socialist, recalled:

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